Hola Que Tal from Santiago!
Note: Reposted from RealTravel.com and branded "Editor's Pick".
I was super skeptical about going to Chile after someone I met in Buenos Aires painted such a bleak picture of Santiago. She told me that she was robbed in Santiago three times and that there was absolutely nothing to do in the city. Having such low expectations from the get-go, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived here. My first treat was an aerial view of the snow-covered Andes from the airplane. It was breathtaking. Wish I had a camera ready to capture the image. WOW.
I did have another surprise when I arrived at the airport, but not a great one. Apparently, if you live in the US, Canada, or Great Britain, you have to pay a reciprocity fee to enter the country. Cost: $100. Ouch, for someone on a tight budget, that definitely hurt.
I took a taxi to Chili Hostel located in the residential neighborhood of Providencia. Even though the hostel is situated in a quieter part of town, it was still centralized. You can easily take the subway or walk down Avenida Providencia only a few minutes away. Avenida Providencia stretches for miles. It appears to be the central roadway connecting everyone to most major tourist spots and business districts in Santiago. I spent my first day just schlepping down the avenue to get a feel for the city. First impression: Santiago is very clean and urban. Because I was forewarned that Santiago was extremely cold, I looked like an eskimo walking down the street. The day was uncharacteristically warm, so you can imagine the stares I got from the locals. Plus, I was very uncomfortable since I had several layers of clothing on ready to brave the cold weather.
So the next day, I decided not to repeat my clothing faux pas and put on a skirt, sleeveless top and ultra thin jacket. It was freezing! It went from hot to cold within 24 hours, and I didn’t expect that. So I was shivering the entire time I visited University of Chile, Plaza de Armas, Iglesia Cathedral, Municipalidad de Santiago, and other key points of interest. I was able to duck inside some of the malls I found walking down the popular Paseo Ahumada just to escape the chill. Paseo Ahumada reminds me of Florida Street in Buenos Aires, but is much wider and less populated. There is a mixture of cheap and more expensive eateries along this passageway. I also visited the Mercado Central also known as El Galeon. This popular destination is primarily a fish market, but there is also an enormous room housing many upscale restaurants. There were at least 4 to 5 waiters trying to get me to eat lunch at their establishment. I didn’t feel like spending a ton of money so I found a hole-in-the-wall empanada place instead. I ordered my favorite type of empanada – carne (beef) with queso (cheese) and tomate (tomatoes). Only $ 2 with a drink.
Still freezing, I ended my day early by taking the subway (University of Chile station) to Salvador station located a stone’s throw from the hostel. I had satellite TV in my room so I spent a few hours catching up on American shows. Boy do I miss home right now. For dinner, I ate at the hostel, where they hosted a spaghetti dinner. I met a couple from Brazil – Silvania and Bruno, where we spent the next 3 hours (over several glasses of red wine) talking about careers, how they met, our whereabouts during 9-11, Portuguese vs. Spanish differences, and so much more. In addition to Silvania and Bruno, I met other fellow travelers: Johnny, Jenna and Chris from England, and Daniel from Germany. We all have such an eclectic background. It was nice to share our experiences with each other during hostel-hosted events like the pizza and beer gathering we had last night. Good times.
Yesterday, I decided to take it easy and walk roughly 20 minutes to Plaza Italia. I found a diner serving carne asada so I parked myself in one of the booths and mapped out my next destination. After lunch, I walked down Pio Nono street and found the Barrio Bellavista (outdoor bohemian flea market with numerous artisans) and the Patio Bellavista directly across from it. Quite the juxtaposition: The Barrio caters to the budget-conscious while the Patio is a high-priced tourist spot. I continued on Pio Nino until I found the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago Chile entrance. Here you can choose among several activities: visit the Jardin Zoologico (zoo), take the Funicular to the Cerro San Cristobal, or take the Teleferico (cable car) across the park. I decided to visit Cerro San Cristobal, where I saw the Subida ala Virgen, Statue of the Virgin Mary. I spent some time inside the Catholic church and outside taking snaposhots of other religious sculptures. Visitors were serenaded by beautiful Spanish hymns coming out of numerous outdoor speakers. Very serene and calming. I enjoyed it here. At the base of the Virgin Mary, you can also enjoy a somewhat hazy, panoramic view of Santiago underneath the smog-covered sky.
My South American trip definitely ended on a good note. Santiago is great, but I wouldn’t spend a ton of time here. Maybe 3 days max. As the last stop on my WW “sampler” tour, the tranquil pace definitely helped with the decompression stage of my trip. I will be back in San Francisco soon so I can take care of things (like jury duty, argh!) before I jet off to Puerto Vallarta and Prague. Until then, hasta luego! Myra